Belmont-Paul Women's Equality
National Monument
District of Columbia
Park Photo
NPS photo

Women's Suffrage

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument tells the story of a century of activism by American women. In 1929, the National Woman's Party (NWP), with financial support of suffragist Alva Belmont, purchased the house to establish a Washington base of operations. Alice Paul founded the NWP in 1916 as a lobbying organization to promote women's suffrage. The house served not only as the headquarters for the massive political effort to obtain equality, but also as a second home for the hardworking women of the organization.

Nonviolent, dramatic protests were the hallmark of the NWP's operations in Washington. Suffrage marches, daily picketing and arrests at the White House, and speaking tours raised the public profile of the movement. Protesters faced daily violence from both passers-by and the police, including having their banners ripped from their hands and being physically attacked and arrested. While imprisoned for their activism, some women protested through highly-publicized hunger strikes that resulted in forced feedings and even worse prison conditions. The brutality with which the women were treated created enormous public support for suffrage.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. With this hard-won, long-awaited victory, the NWP focused on the next step: complete equality of the sexes under law. The group's headquarters at the Alva Belmont house provided the backdrop for many of the defining moments in this struggle. Alice Paul authored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, which reads simply, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex." In 1972, Congress passed the ERA, but the amendment remains three states short of ratification today. For over 50 years, the ERA has been introduced in every session of Congress.

In 1997, the National Woman's Party ceased its lobbying efforts and became a nonprofit educational organization. Today the NWP continues to occupy the house, along with its historic library and archives, to educate the public about the women's rights movement. Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument is one of the premier women's history sites in the country, housing archives as well as one of the most important collections of artifacts from the women's suffrage and equal rights movements.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul was one of the most prominent members of 20th-century women's rights movement. An outspoken suffragist and feminist, she tirelessly led the charge for women's suffrage and equal rights in the United States. Born to a New Jersey Quaker family in 1885, young Alice grew up attending suffragist meetings with her mother. She pursued an unusually high level of education for a woman of her time, graduating Swarthmore College in 1905 and receiving her master's in sociology in 1907 and a Ph.D. in economics in 1912 from the University of Pennsylvania.

While continuing her studies in England, she made the acquaintance of militant British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Paul was arrested and imprisoned many times for her involvement with Pankhurst's group, whose disruptive and radical tactics included smashing windows and prison hunger strikes. Forever changed by her experiences, Paul returned to the United States in 1910 and turned her attention to the American suffrage movement. After the deaths of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1902 and Susan B. Anthony in 1906, the suffrage movement was languishing, lacking focus under conservative suffrage organizations that concentrated only on achieving state suffrage. Paul believed that the movement needed to focus on the passage of a federal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

History of the Alva Belmont House

Built on Capitol Hill in 1800, the brick federal-period house that today is Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument is among the oldest residential properties in Washington, D.C. The house is located on land used by the Nacotchtank, or Anacostans, for hunting and trading. The tract was included in a land grant to Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, in 1632 by King Charles I of England as part of the colony of Maryland.

Robert Sewall, a member of one of Maryland's prominent families, purchased two lots from Daniel Carroll in 1793 and 1799. He built the original house at 2nd Street and Maryland Avenue, NE in 1800, in the newly formed Washington City. Soon after construction of the house was complete, Robert Sewall inherited his uncle's tobacco plantation in southern Maryland. Sewall rented his Washington house to Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Gallatin lived in the Sewall house from 1801 until 1813. After Gallatin left, Robert Sewall's son William was responsible for taking care of the house, but it is unknown if he ever lived there. William served as a flotillaman under Commodore Joshua Barney during the War of 1812.

On August 24,1814, the British Army burned the house during the invasion of Washington. According to the claim that Sewall later filed with Congress, a group of Barney's men retreating from the Battle of Bladensburg occupied the house and shot at the British troops advancing through the city. The attack killed several men as well as British General Ross's horse. In retaliation, General Ross's troops set fire to the house and it was destroyed. The house that now sits at 144 Constitution Avenue, NE is the one that was rebuilt on the spot by 1820. Robert Sewall died in the house that year.

The Sewall family descendants oversaw many renovations and changes to the house over the following decades. The house sat vacant after 1912 and fell into disrepair. In 1922, Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale of Vermont purchased and rehabilitated the house. They planted an extensive rose garden which was well-known in the city for its beauty.

In 1929, the Dales sold the house to the National Woman's Party (NWP) to use as their headquarters. The NWP renamed the property the "Alva Belmont House" in honor of Alva Belmont, NWP President from 1920-1933 and its primary benefactor. Belmont donated thousands of dollars to the women's equality movement and gave the NWP the ability to purchase the new headquarters. The house also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members up until the 1990s.

Threats of losing the headquarters arose during construction of the Hart Senate Office Building in the 1960s. The NWP lobbied and fought to have the historic importance of the house recognized. As a result of their efforts, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 as the Sewall-Belmont House and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. In 2016, the NWP donated the house and property to the National Park Service and Presidential Proclamation 9423 established the site as the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument.

Source: NPS Website (2020)


Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument — April 12, 2016
Sewall–Belmont National Historic Site (NPS affiliated unit) — October 26, 1974

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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


Cultural Landscape Report, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument (Quinn Evans, January 2021)

Feasibility Study of Potential Operating Models Under NPS Stewardship, Sewall-Belmont House, Washington, D.C. (June 2015)

Foundation Document Overview, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, Washington, D.C. (January 2017)

Historic Resource Study, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument (Quinn Evans, January 2021)

Junior Suffragist Activity Book, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument (Date Unknown)

Scope of Collection Statement, Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument (2019)

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


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Last Updated: 01-May-2021